Pakistan Claims to Crack Down on Non-Existent Uyghur Terrorist Group

Bumeryem Rozi, 55, an ethnic Uyghur who fled from China to Turkey, cries as she talks to T
AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel

China human rights magazine Bitter Winter on Monday accused Pakistan of playing along with “Chinese propaganda” by making a splashy public vow to crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), an alleged Uyghur terrorist group that evidence suggests does not exist.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) routinely invokes the ETIM to justify concentration camps, forced labor, and a total surveillance state in Xinjiang province.

“East Turkestan” is the name preferred by Uyghur Muslims for the region China has designated as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The region was annexed and refashioned as a province of China by a series of military conquests beginning in the 18th Century and culminating in the Communist invasion of 1949. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people with kinship to adjacent Central Asian nations like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

The Communist Party is working to permanently assimilate the XUAR by flooding it with Han people, dispersing the Uyghurs to other provinces, and forcibly sterilizing the Uyghurs who remain. The United States is among the many national governments and international human rights organizations to characterize China’s policy as genocide.  

In the late 1990s, militant Uyghurs allegedly formed a separatist group known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), led by an experienced terrorist named Hasan Mahsum who trained in Afghanistan. The ETIM stands accused of committing a string of robberies and murders over the ensuing decade, with support from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. According to the United Nations, ETIM claimed about 200 well-armed operatives at its peak.

Hasan Mahsum was killed by the Pakistani military in 2003 and his successor (or possibly the leader of a loosely-related separate group) Abdul Haq was likewise killed in 2010, effectively ending the ETIM in the analysis of most counterterrorist experts – but not in the mind of the Chinese government, which continues to tout the Uyghur separatist group as a massive threat on par with the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, so vast and sinister that imprisoning much of the Uyghur population is necessary to contain its menace.

The communists were infuriated when the United State delisted ETIM as a terrorist organization in November 2020. The U.S. State Department said this action was taken because “for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist.” Some analysts believe ETIM never really existed at all – Mahsum and his gang were real, but never the highly organized separatist menace Beijing portrayed them as.

This is the context in which Bitter Winter reported Pakistan colluding with China in the latest attempt to resurrect the ETIM bogeyman. The previous attempt occurred in January when Chinese agents were arrested while allegedly trying to conduct false-flag terrorist attacks in Afghanistan that could be blamed on the ETIM. The targets would have been American troops, giving the Communist Party a chance to dish out some murderous payback against the United States for daring to announce that ETIM ceased to exist a decade ago.

Bitter Winter noted that Western nations have been trying to get Pakistan to crack down on real terrorist threats for decades, but Beijing easily roped the Pakistanis into pretending to crack down what terrorism experts agree is a fake threat:

A good dozen of terrorist groups claiming to act in the name of an ultra-fundamentalist brand of Islam are active in Pakistan. They terrorize and murder members of minorities such as Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadis. The international community has been asking for years that the government of Pakistan take decisive action against these ruthless militias.

Finally, last week Pakistan announced that it will crack down at least on one such group. There is only one problem with the statement, the group does not exist. What happened on June 3 is simply part of Chinese propaganda. 

The foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan met for a “Trilateral Dialogue,” at the end of which they listed a number of commitments in a press release, including cracking down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The Pakistani permanent representative to the United Nations, Munir Akram, has insisted that ETIM exists and it is a real threat, and that Pakistan will cooperate with China in eradicating it.

Bitter Winter noted there is reason to believe that even some of the terrorist actions attributed to ETIM in its salad days were actually “invented by CCP propaganda,” and there is little question among serious counterterrorism authorities that the Uyghur separatist militia exists outside of Chinese propaganda today.

“As the Afghan fiasco of 2020 shows, the only party interested in making ETIM exist is China. It seems that Pakistan has now decided to support the CCP in this propaganda operation,” the Bitter Winter report concluded ruefully.

China continues to shriek that America is “whitewashing terrorists” by refusing to take its ETIM propaganda seriously, pointing to every Uyghur caught working for a terrorist organization as proof ETIM’s shadowy tentacles are stretched into every corner of the globe. 

China’s latest frenzied “proof” that ETIM remains a world-class menace is a group of 22 Uyghur recruits for al-Qaeda who were captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan in the 2000s and held at Guantánamo Bay until 2013. They currently live in “a kind of legal limbo,” as CNN put it in May, because the U.S. and allied nations are reluctant to send them back to Xinjiang’s concentration camps to face possible torture and forced labor.


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